Bite-Sized: Brandon Graham’s King City (and, also, Multiple Warheads)

(King City is an indie comic masterpiece-objet d’art by Brandom Graham. It’s hard to explain what his style is like, so you should go Google-Image search it yourself. Clutter after clutter of detail, strange alien scenery mixed with brief descriptions of everything everywhere, and pun after pun after pun. His other comic, Multiple Warheads, is also a same kind of Beast. This review was written on Goodreads, as a response to two primary critiques of the comic: That the story was non-linear and ‘nothing happens’, and that Graham, with his background as a porn artist, is objectifying women. So… spoilers, but, really, it doesn’t quite matter, because the ‘spoiler’ stuff isn’t the core of the comic.)

Brandon Graham’s closest analogue, in another medium, is probably the French Comedic Master Jacques Tati, especially his film Playtime. Both are less linear works and more spatial set-pieces that seem to expand multitastically into actionic and comedic structures.

It’s getting to be a critic cliche to say that ‘the main character is the setting’, but Graham is the artist to actually make that line ring true. Multiple Warheads is narratively slacker, and explodes even wider into landscape after landscape after object after object after person after person, but King City isn’t lacking on that front at all. The amount Graham crams into a single image is ridiculous. His sensibility is wholly Manga + Underground + Graffiti… actually, its probably everything ever existent. I’m following him on Twitter, and he posts some of the most obscure subversive art stuff from everywhere.

There’s a quote at the end of King City, which I will probably keep in my head forever

“With Great Power comes a great response: Go fuck yourself”

This is the essence of the story. Joe is a Cat-Master. He’s given one of the most powerful abilities in the world he lives in. He spends his time floating in and out of various dangerous jobs (usually given by a mysterious femme-fatale anarchist-revolutionary, Beebay), strange conspiracies, and lusting silently after his ex-girlfriend. It’s revealed as the Nature of the City, to be perpetual struck by that kind of dangerous. It’s a wild and flamboyant style of life that requires a heady detachment to churn through.

On the opposite side is Max. An ex-vet from zombie-Korea. It’s a brilliant touch that he’s suffering from a drug-addiction, where he himself is turning into the drug. Compared to Joe, he spends most of his time re-cuperating from his war experiences, and his ghosts. He’s at the farthest end of the King City lifestyle. He’s toned down. This reflects off those moments which shows him in full battle-gear, revving up zombie hordes with double chainsaws. He remembers a time when he felt ‘invincible’, until it all slowly went downwards. King City is a kind of drug.

Yet Anna attaches herself to Max. In Joe’s reminisces, she’s seen as the ‘pixie-dream girl’ character (although, actually, the whole cast is high, but still…). She’s anarchistic. She spray paints billboards. She rocks, basically. Yet, you can get some sense that the degraded relationship occurred because King City was too fast for both of them. They were split by the tide. King City flows with alien prostitutes and mysterious femme-fatale bomb-revolutionaries. Scenes after scenes after scenes state that largeness and fullness, and, yet, sometimes, emptiness, of the streets. Joe’s relationship is with the city. It pushes into him, sends him into strange trajectories, and just doesn’t let go.

The ending is pretty much the perfect way to tie it down. Joe learns to wind down. He helps Max and Anna. He rejects Beebay’s advances. He chills down with his friends in an apartment, watching the other Cat Masters deal with the destructive Lovecraftian beast. Afterwards, life carries on. He’s gotten slacker, taking his own stride within the flow of the city.

And people said there was no character development.

Of course, if you come in expecting linearity, or resolution, none of that is ever to be found. King City is a subtle mood piece placed together under a razzle-dazzle of profound activity. Multiple Warheads is the same, except that it expresses the opposite flow. In MW, Sexica starts moving from stasis. In KC, Joe gets it together. Multiple Warheads is a Journey, King City is a pit-stop. Multiple Warheads is Discovery, King City is Observation. Together, both comics provides one of the fullest expansions of a whole World.

In the meantime, people critique female body proportions, and objectification, forgetting that within these pages (MW and KC combined) Brandon Graham has created probably more than a thousand different body types of ambiguous alien genders. Beebay’s helper for one, is this rotund lipsticked masked thing that she kisses with slight adoration. In MW, beyond Sexica, her double exists in the form of an adventurous masculine-looking blue -haired bounty hunter. In other pages of MW, a feminine male dancer is a couple with this small blue armadillo thing, and their bed has about three other aliens in it.

Such an expectation and critique probably results from the eschewed linearity. People see the pulp sexploitation plot, rather than the larger aspect of Joe’s relation with the City as a whole, pushing in and out into a state where he realizes, that, his own meagre story is really not that important. Furthermore, he doesn’t get the girl, and it isn’t played in a cheap way, nor is it played didactically, to prove a strained point. It is what it is. A lot like Life.

Likewise people focus on Sexica as the ‘porn character’, although most of MW isn’t even her story. And the parts that are, aren’t about her sexuality.

(Now, if you want to see sexual objectification played didactically, AMAZINGLY well, just go read the whole Empowered series by Adam Warren – which goes beyond plain sexual politics into a whole larger larger picture, of media as a whole, and what it means to be a Hero or a Villain).

Such smallness of interpretation is really saddening, because Art like this should be breathed and trumpeted from the heavens, while the rest of the industry is being consumed by a flaming fullisade of Superhero comics.

You don’t ‘get’ King City. You breathe King City. You don’t ‘read’ the story of Joe. You read the story of a World.

In the words of the Cat-Master: “Go fuck yourself, I’m not your pet Cat-Master”